The 5 Defining Moments of 2011: #5

Welcome to our end of year special, and once again we’ve changed the format (here for 2010,and here, here, here and here for 2009). Whilst we enjoyed last year’s Top MC’s round-up, the reasons for change were two-fold: firstly, the sheer dearth of ‘top MC’s’ this year, and secondly the need to incorporate the many other genres that we’re fans of.

To satisfy that requirement, Indi and myself have compiled 5 moments (we use that term loosely, as many/most of them aren’t exact moments) that we feel accurately represent and summarise 2011 from our collective perspective. As expected, we’ve cheated in places by grouping certain things together, but I’m sure you’ll all see its for the greater good. Or, alternatively, you’ll understand that we do it because we feel like it.

As per every year, many of you will agree, many will disagree but frankly we’re glad you have an opinion and would love to hear it. Without further ado, click on to see the moment(s) that kick off our top 5 countdown.

#5: The Emergence of The Weeknd and Frank Ocean

The R&B landscape has finally been changed. There’s no more aversion to actual talent, reliance on Autotune and dependency on a strong guest feature. There’s no fear of stepping outside of R&B’s suffocating walls and incorporating the styles of alternative, rock and more. The Weeknd’s trippy, ethereal style and Frank Ocean’s deliciously unique, diverse music couldn’t be further apart, but their near-simultaneous rise to prominence gained a level of mainstream acceptance that spoke of an audience who finally embraced change.

Consider the state of R&B a year ago: cosying up to hip-hop in order to stay relevant, and suffering painfully from a lack of originality and inventiveness. 2010 saw Drake’s originality heralded as R&B’s shining star, despite being primarily a rapper, a clear indictment on the genre’s lack of quality at the time. Flash forward to now, with Drake being shunned by almost all with a Y chromosome due to a perceived lack of originality and imagination, whilst the two now being held up are arguably two very leftfield artists in Frank and The Weeknd. Whilst this cycle of a popular artist losing their original fanbase/gaining the female audience is nothing new, the ‘replacements’ have rarely been as eclectic as this duo.

Frank Ocean himself has been vocal about his dislike of being branded R&B, but it is his shifting of the boundaries within which R&B is contained that makes him such a fascinating artist. Undeniably, at the core of his music lies an R&B sensibility, and when accompanied diversity of that which is layered on top, it swarms that R&B core with a sea of undefinable eclecticism that moves R&B from its over-established box into a much broader nature. Whether its through piercing, well-constructed lyricism or versatile vocal performances, key to Frank’s soaring popularity is his lack of reliance on great productions or a particular production style: from the reworking of Coldplay’s universally-loved Strawberry Swing to the beautiful ambience and melancholy of the original piece Thinking About You, Frank is evidence that talent can carry even the most closed genre to an exciting future.

The Weeknd is a different prospect, by virtue of not necessarily breaking the mould, but rather improving on what was already there. I’ve long held the view that his output is similar to what Drake’s would have been, had he fully pursued the R&B route and/or stayed true to the So Far Gone style, and as a result, his debut project felt and sounded like a natural successor to the aforementioned mixtape. Of course, that association is not the entire story, with House of Balloons proving an evolution on So Far Gone‘s style, taking the ethereal, ambient style of R&B and running with it, by virtue of infusing The Weeknd’s lavish vocal ability with a coherent, consistent set of productions, and unlike Frank Ocean, it is the frighteningly perfect synergy of artist skill and production nous rather than the gravitas of the individual that makes The Weeknd such a formidable prospect.

Frank Ocean stands out as the definition of an individual, an artist who pushes boundaries with every release. The Weeknd stands out as an incredible example of the artist-producer relationship, a vocalist with a special command on his style. Neither is taking a better approach than the other, and both have pulled R&B into directions that it needed in order to survive. Instead, it will now flourish.

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2 comments to The 5 Defining Moments of 2011: #5

  • Francis

    Great article. Spot on about The Weeknd and Frank Ocean, it is so refreshing that both exist and are both putting out such original and interesting music. I think Drake is most definitely getting there, and the relationship between Drake/The Weeknd could well create some special music. Drake seems to be confident enough to really be himself when making Weeknd-esque R&B, which is when he is at his best. Anyway, spot on here.

  • Thanks for the praise Francis.

    It’s hard to pick how the Drake/Weeknd dynamic is going to end up really. In truth, I see Drake’s influence on The Weeknd as being one of the factors behind the slight decline in the latter’s quality of output, but we’ll see how it all pans in the future. The potential and talent is there.

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